Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen feeds off his emotions while he’s defending the ball, something he does as well as any player in the game. But those emotions consumed him as he contemplated the thought of playing anywhere other than Memphis next season.
“I don’t want to cry, but, I just …” Allen said after the Grizzlies’ 93-86 elimination loss to theSan Antonio Spurs on Monday night.
Allen’s eyes welled up as he collected himself before continuing to reflect on what the Grizzlies accomplished in 2012-13.
“It was just a great season, man, and I love the fight in all my guys,” Allen said.
Although he isn’t the Grizzlies’ most talented player, Allen’s idiosyncrasies — an awkward shooting stroke, two wonky knees, nervous energy — made him a civic icon. He coined “All heart, grit ‘n’ grind,” the war cry that rallied a rugged city around a flawed team. He’s also a first-team all-NBA defender who was essential to the Grizzlies’ success as the league’s second-ranked defense.
Allen becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and his return is no certainty for a team that has close to $60 million committed in salaries next season, and is determined to establish payroll flexibility going forward.
Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph accounts for more than a quarter of the Grizzlies’ balance sheet next season when he’s due to earn $17.8 million. Randolph’s brawny style is every bit as synonymous to the Grizzlies’ collective character as Allen’s odd brand of competitiveness. It’s not all lovable girth, either, because Z-Bo also delivers the goods on a nightly basis.
But a team with the Grizzlies’ limitations under the salary cap would be wise to at least explore the marketplace for a player of Randolph’s caliber and paycheck, a reality Randolph understands.
“I would like to retire a Grizzly and be here,” Randolph said. Asked if he could imagine playing elsewhere, Randolph laughed.
“Nah! Not really!” he said. “I’ll take my fan base with me from Memphis, though!”
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins is a free agent, and his availability has stoked the interest of a couple of teams. Grizzlies management appreciates that the team’s current core has improved each year under Hollins. He might occasionally be stubborn, but his leadership has been crucial to the team’s culture.